Josie Laures and Antoine Senni sat in darkness. Not just darkness, but deep in the belly of a cave. The two did not huddle together. They sat far apart, each in their own cave alone, in sheer silence. No lights. No windows. No friends. The experiment tested the effects of isolation, loneliness, and darkness on the human body. Josie lasted 88 days; Antoine stayed 126 days. (http://thescienceexplorer.com/brain-and-body/isolation-dark-drives-humans-brink-insanity-studies-find)
The study reveals how darkness affects the human body. For starters, Josie and Antoine physically adjusted to the darkness that when they walked out into beaming sun, they needed dark goggles to protect their eyes. Maybe more astounding is that they lost all track of time. Since neither knew when the sun rose and when it set, they did not know when one day ended and another started. What Antoine thought a ‘quick nap’ was actually a straight thirty-hour marathon of sleep. Josie left the cave March 12th, but she felt it was February 25th. Antoine came out April 5th, but thought it was February 4th. Time was months off. Then, feeling forsaken, both smeared jelly all over the floor, hoping to attract mice for pets.
Can you imagine living in completely isolated in absolute darkness? Cut off from care and communication? Completely clueless to the length of life, to what happens to your life? To feel forsaken, forgotten? Darkness prevents seeing life as it truly is.
Even though you (and I) live above ground under the sun’s brilliant light, darkness can enter— and it can keep us from seeing life as God intends it to be. So, God shines through the unknown. His brilliant word eradicates questions and fears. He makes clear constant care. The Light has Dawned shining on those in darkness and rejuvenating burdened hearts.
After all, that is what light does, right? Rejuvenates! The sun does not shine much during winter. Clouds block out dazzling sunbeams, leaving this whitish-gray landscape of nature’s dormant death. When the sunbeams break through the clouds, you whip open the curtains, pull a chair up to the window, and sit in that light sucking in energy and cheer.
That’s what people in Isaiah’s day needed. In the two verses right before our reading, Isaiah describe dreary state of northern Israel: Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness (Isaiah 8:21-22).
Not really a heart-warming picture, is it? Israel’s northern tribes are collapsing. The Assyrian Empire camps just outside the northern tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali. This Empire dominates the ancient world. Assyrian generals marched troops right up to the city wall. Those soldiers piled up earth, making this enormous ramp. The, they wheeled massive towers up that earth-ramp. Archers on the top shot down at people on the other side of the wall. The middle of that tower had a battering-ramp. So, while archers shoot at you, you hear a *thud,* *thud,* *thud* — the enemy will soon break in (https://www.ancient.eu/Assyrian_Warfare/).
So the name ‘Assyrian’ ignites heart-stopping, stomach-dropping fear. (Ready for the grizzly reason why?) The Assyrians had a reputation for impaling captives— like, stick a pole up through you and out your mouth and plant that pole into the ground. If done right, you would die— days later. They also could skin you— and so perfected the technique that they could keep you alive to the end. That’s pretty horrifying. Now that terrifying army stands just outside your city wall— and you know your puny army cannot stop them.
Are you beginning to understand why Isaiah uses words like ‘gloom’ and ‘distress’ and ‘darkness?’ Stand in darkness and you cannot see danger or obstacles or even a path out of that room. Darkness robs the known. Israel’s future is unknown. How can you stop an unstoppable force? How can you escape such horrifying torture? How can you stay safe? You do not know.
Where do they turn? To darkness. Assyria marches closer and Israel turns to its gods. Not ‘God’ but ‘gods.’ Some pray to stones. Others bow down to telephone [Asherah] poles. Still others take their toddlers to a furnace, drop them in, and hope for protection, safety, and peace (2 Kings 17:16-17). The Israelites do not know how to escape destruction, but they also did not see that sticks and stones and fires cannot save them! The people God rescue from Egypt, the people he led through a desert and into this Promised Land, the people who could see God fill the temple with his presence turned away. Hearts refused to see God’s mighty power.
Do you wander in that same darkness? Do you know what ‘worry’ is? Doubting God’s ability to act. You worry about Christianity’s future because you question God’s power to change hearts. Sadness relies on inspirational sayings instead of memorizing a Bible verse and keeping it close to the heart. How often you do feel ‘empty’ and ‘unfulfilled’ because you search for lasting happiness in all the things that fade away and die? How much heartache do you suffer because you digest the world’s selfish advice? ‘Hold grudges! Don’t forgive!’ ‘You deserve money! Don’t give it away!’ ‘Make yourself happy! Don’t listen to what you Pastor (or Bible) says! Do what you want!’ That’s darkness! Complete, utter darkness! The heart can wander away from what please God, supposing that somehow all will be better! The truth is, it is not! Listening to the world’s godless advice might put a smile on your face, but it will not put a smile on God’s face— and it certainly cannot keep the smile on your face. Trusting yourself gets you nowhere because you (and I) are not all-powerful; we have limitations. A darkened claims that you can live without God.
If that sounds harmless, then study closely what happens to northern Israel. The Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them from his presence (2 Kings 17:18). Spiritual darkness cut us off from God’s care and communication. Spiritual darkness makes us completely clueless to what happens to your life. Spiritual makes leaves us forsaken. Spiritual darkness prevents us from seeing life as it truly is.
So God takes action. That darkness is so dark that we can never find God. We do not sense a need for a Savior, we do not figure out how to accept God (read Ephesians 2:1-8; Romans 3:9-24). In the thick, gloomy darkest darkness of unbelief blasts a piercing light. The people [walking] in darkness have seen a great light; those [living] in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. Did you catch that? People walking, but a light ignites! People living, but a light shines! People do nothing! No one asks for light. No one chooses light. The light chooses to shine.
In world of pain and shattered dreams God blasts a beam onto Bethlehem. God’s glorious angels shine in a brilliant song: ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy… in the town of David a Savior has been born to you’ (Luke 2:10-11). God’s radiant star leads wise men to an even greater Star (Matthew 2:1-12). God shatters darkness by sending Jesus. Just like the beaming sun brightens gloomy hearts, Jesus cheers gloomy hearts. The very first words he ever preaches echo throughout Zebulun and Naphtali. Lands once decimated, seemingly forgotten hear God’s good news of restoration (Matthew 4:15-16).
God kept the promise Isaiah told. The Light has Dawned and it shines on those in darkness. Light has an effect. Light rejuvenates burdened hearts.
Jesus does not arrive as some rally-figure. Remember, he is ‘anointed,’ ‘set aside’ for a purpose, to complete a mission. Isaiah reveals that mission: You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
People rejoice just like they rejoice when God dominated Midian. Centuries before the Assyrians, the Midianites plopped down in central Israel. They camp in your backyard. Their cattle eat your crops, leaving you nothing. They push you away from water, your roads, your property. No one can stop them! God used Gideon and 300-fighting men to rout that smothering army (Judges 6-7). God brought victory. He restored freedom— and the Israelites rejoiced.
Jesus breaks the stranglehold sin had on us. Self-reliance condemned us. Like a heavy yoke set put on your back, judgment crushes body and soul. Turning from God reaps eternal punishment. Like a short rod, regret strikes us. Guilt hits us. Failure preaches death. Yet, Jesus lifts that burdensome yoke of guilt and regret and frustration and sets it on his shoulders. He allows God’s judgment crush his body and soul. God’s rod strikes Jesus dead. Jesus marches into the darkness of our grave, into our death, and out with our new life. Easter Sunday shines with this awesome truth: ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ (John 8:12).
That’s what you have: life. Life with God forever in heaven. Life with God now— him beside you. The Light has Dawned to rejuvenate burdened hearts. That is why we confess our sins right at the beginning of each worship service. Any fear that God turns from us vanishes with God’s burden-shattering words: ‘I forgive you.’ What a gem you carry: The certainty of God pardoning guilt! Those words prepare you for what comes next. You can listen to Scripture knowing God speaks comfort to you. You can hear a sermon that does not condemn you, but reveals the Savior. You can sing hymns, thanking God for sticking his Word to your life. The Light has Dawned to rejuvenate burdened hearts.
With that light, life becomes clearer. Just last week the news mentioned impeachment rules and trial, and Second Amendment Gun Rights. Prince Harry (can we legally call him that?) and Meghan targeted the nagging paparazzi. Every single headline tries to draw you in, get your opinion, and then suggests that your opinion can change things for the better. Maybe you can stop harsh words and protect rights— but it will not end those things for good. Many still wander in sin’s darkness.
You see the life as God makes it to be. A life where you forgive others, even those do not ask forgiveness, because God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32). A life where you cling to God’s promises, because unlike the world, God actually keeps his word. A life where you find comfort and strength because Jesus conquered death, because Jesus works in you patience and wisdom in conflict (Romans 8:31-39). The Light has Dawned and Jesus (and his Word) shines in you. Jesus rejuvenate burdened hearts.
Even scientific studies reveal the harsh effects of darkness. God’s Word reveals the deadly effects of spiritual darkness. So, God shines through the unknown. His brilliant word eradicates questions and fears. He makes clear constant care. The Light has Dawned shining on those in darkness and rejuvenating burdened hearts.
Juan Ponce de León dedicated his entire life for one goal. A goal greater than when he discovered new islands throughout the Caribbean sea. A goal far more impressive than when he accompanied Christopher Columbus on his first voyage to the Americas. A goal far more lasting than planting some of America’s oldest settlements. For all that Juan Ponce de León accomplished, one goal sat at the very top: Finding the Fountain of Youth.
Immortality was life’s greatest treasure. Juan Ponce de León so desperately wanted to turn back the hands of time. To remove every ache and stiff joint. To strengthen weak eyes and saggy muscles. To feel better, to be younger. So, he sailed and searched and hiked and hunted—but he never found his treasure. All the while Juan Ponce de León grew older and older. He grew so old that he died. He never found immortality.
Call it a misplaced priority or willful ignorance, but you find Juan Ponce de León never found immortality because he did not want the immortality God offers. The flawed heart can elevate worldly matters over the true peace God sends. So, John the Baptist has a question for you: What Do You Seek in Jesus? Opinions abound regarding the work of Jesus. Many cling to those flawed opinions. Yet, only one answer stands acceptable to God.
So, John tells you exactly what he finds in Jesus. God promised the Savior. He spoke through Isaiah: I will also make you [=Jesus] a light for the Gentiles, that you [=Jesus]may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 49:6). God even promised John: ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ God makes no secret about it; the long-promised Savior will shine on earth.
John sees it! Jesus leaves Galilee for the Jordan River to be baptized by John. The instant John pours water over Jesus, [t]he Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17). John takes God’s promise, connects it to this awesome sight, and says: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.’ Everything happened just like God said it would! If the events God promised unfold before your very eyes, then you can determine: I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.
Do you grasp the sheer weight of those words? I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God. John points at this one man. The thirty-year-old, bearded, olive-skinned, carpenter’s son from the backwoods town of Nazareth, this man named ‘Jesus.’ That man— not his brother James, not his father Joseph— but this man Jesus is God. He exists before the creation of the world. He knits the universe together. He speaks to Abraham, wrestles with Jacob. He wipes out enemy nations. He watches generation after generation prepare for his arrival— and now he is here. Jesus, the Son of God. All-powerful. All-perfect. Speaks truth no one can deny. Exposes hidden motives. This One outranks every single person who has been (or ever will be) born.
When John saw Jesus coming toward him [he] said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” That man, Jesus— who is also the Son of God— is the Lamb God sent. A Lamb sent for a purpose.
Now, the image of a lamb carries a strong connection to the Old Testament. For centuries the Israelites offer sacrifices. An Israelite would lead his unblemished, healthy lamb to the temple. He would lay his hands on that lamb, transferring his guilt, shame, and rebellion onto that substitute. Then, he would slit that lamb’s throat. The lamb died. Yes, it was bloody. Yes, it is gruesome. That is what sin deserved: an ugly, gruesome consequence. Left untreated this is what each soul faces. So, this animal suffered the consequences in the place of that Israelite. Still, that animal did not have the power to actually scrub clean the heart. Every single animal pointed to Jesus, the One capable of purifying every heart. So John cries: ‘Look! The final sacrifice! The Substitute who can actually make your heart clean! Behold the Lamb of God!’
What Do You Seek in Jesus? I imagine the heart leaps at hearing forgiveness, but perhaps it dreads confronting its need for forgiveness. Jesus’ teachings sound appealing as long as those teachings do not condemn you (or me). My argument with the spouse— well, I do not want to hear that I am wrong. I want God to defend my money-spending habits and tell her to respect me! I want God to defend my flirting and tell him to give me space! But never, ever do I want the Word to suggest that I might be wrong. I do not want Jesus to expose my love for this world. I want God to accept the fact that my ballgame will come first Sunday morning. I want God to understand that I will find greater delight in freetime than finding real rest from his control. I want God to expect that I will determine what is morally ‘right.’ That I might embrace the world’s view of living without marriage. That I might tolerate same-sex marriage because it seems harmless. That I might call other religions ‘right’ because, well, at least Muslims worship something. But never, ever do I want the Word to suggest that I need to put God above my opinions. Instead, Jesus’ teachings can condemn others. Like my in-laws who fight all the time— they need these words. Those politicians need to hear this— but not me. Do you ever stop to listen to What Your Heart Seeks In Jesus?
Understand, if Jesus is the Lamb God sends, then that means God sends something the world needs. If Jesus is needed, then it means you (and I) need him. If I need him, then it means something is wrong with me. If something is wrong with me, then it means, God will never accept me without Jesus.
So John cries: ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ He does not point out one way among many for eternal life. He does not identify just another great teacher. Here is the Lamb anointed—‘set aside’— by the Holy Spirit to be our sacrifice. The Lamb declared unblemished by God Almighty. The Word applies to him, but it does not condemn him. When Jesus compares his life to God’s Commandments, the match is perfect! That Lamb shines with such brilliance; the tacky stain of guilt never sticks to him! God transfers our guilt onto him. Jesus carries up our love-for-self and is slaughtered. Nailed to a cross, thorns slicing his head, spear piercing his side. Life seeping from his veins. Life leaving and ending— all to purify and cleanse you (and me). Behold the Lamb of God.
Behold the Lamb of God— approved and accepted. God raises Jesus from death in order make it clear that his sacrifice is enough. He brings Jesus out of the grave without guilt. If that life is offered in your (and my) place, then what does God find on you? No shame. No guilt. Nothing. Because Jesus lifted it off and obliterated it once and for all time (Hebrews 10:10).
What do You Find in Jesus? Behold the Lamb of God! The sacrifice needed. The sacrifice given. The sacrifice received. Do not stop there. Find the Christ.
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” Many wanted something from him. Some wanted a warrior to purge Rome out of Jewish territory. Others wanted a teacher who condones already-created teachings. Still others want a bread-King, a social leader who fills bellies and brings happiness for the rest of life. Most did not want the Lamb. Yet, these two said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher).
These disciples see in Jesus not a mere man, but a rabbi— and not just a rabbi, but the Rabbi. They ask, “Where are you staying? Because we will go with you to that place, sit down, and learn.’ They will see Jesus heal. They will hear him speak with authority. They will watch miracles pour out. Every incredible sight pieces together a bigger picture: Jesus is the Christ, the One set aside so that they live at peace with God.
These two see Jesus for who he truly is: the Christ. Andrew scrambles to brother Peter: We have found him! That is such a little phrase, but tremendous words. Andrew does not tell Peter that he found what he wanted to find. Rather, he found the Jesus God promised.
You find the same thing. God kept his promise. He sent the Christ. That might sound plain at first, but think about that again. God kept his promise. A vibrant promise passed from generation to generation, century to century. Even though some thought God forgot what he promised, even though others believed God had broken his Word, God had every intention bringing Jesus into your world. He did!
God kept this ancient promise; so what promise will he break? Christ came for you, he makes you God’s child. So, will God suddenly forget you in the operating room? Will your tight finances go unnoticed? What about your fear about the future— will God not address those? You are concerned about the poor choices your children make, you wonder if you will enter heaven, you do not know the future of Christianity. Does God just not care about those fears? Will God let your prayers for rescue and strength go unanswered? Of course not!
You know God cares. You know God addresses your fears and restlessness. You know this because God sent Jesus. He sent the One who establishes a bond of peace between God and you. Since he accomplished this mission, you know God will never leave you. When you fret and worry, when you wrestle with guilt and shame washes over you, go to the Word. Say: ‘God said I am his. Since God said this is so and since he does not break his Word, this will be so.’ Find the Christ God promised. Not the Leader people demand, but the Savior the world needs.
That’s what Andrew, Peter, and so many others found in Jesus. The flawed heart can elevate worldly matters. Juan Ponce de León wanted immortality, but searched for it outside of the Bible. Even today, many set family and success as life’s all-consuming goal. Others hear Jesus speak, but refuse to admit these words apply to them. What do they find? Happiness now, but not forever.
So John the Baptist asks: What Do You Seek in Jesus? Behold the Lamb of God. The Lamb who speaks to your heart, condemning its faulty priorities. The Lamb who takes away sin. Find the Christ, the One sent from God with words of life. Find the One who reigns at the top of every priority. See Jesus as the all-important One to follow and find peace.
Feeling better now? Today is January 12th. That’s nineteen-days after Christmas. At least nineteen days since last scouring the internet for the perfect gift. At least nineteen days since pacing from store to store for eggnog, ham, cordial cherries, peanuts, meats and cheeses for all those family gatherings. Yes, a few sweet treats might remain, but for the most part, the half-dozen family Christmas parties are over. The Christmas tree is gone. The decorations down, packed, and stored away for another year and with them the stressfully frantic unending to-do list of every. single. responsibility. If you are like me, you find yourself standing in this strange intermission. Two major holidays stand behind us (along with all of the planning and prepping) and the next major holiday lies months ahead (Valentine’s Day? …the Irish Festival?... Easter?). School schedules and snowy weather prevent long road trips; that frees up personal time. No back-to-school sales, no school concerts, no graduation parties, nothing really consumes your attention. For a few weeks we have this rest from pressing deadlines. Rest feels nice, doesn’t it?
This morning a deeper rest, a rest far more soothing than this quiet. God points you to that baby in Bethlehem. He points you to the purpose of his birth. He points you to the peace Jesus brings. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. To make you acceptable before God.
Listen to our reading from Acts, chapter 10:36-38. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
You know those accounts too. You heard the Christmas angels sing Jesus’ birth announcement: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests’ (Luke 2:14). You know that after Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, wise men [Magi] from the east tracked Jesus down. They worshipped him, they presented gold, incense, and (fine-smelling) myrrh (Matthew 2:1-12). You saw Jesus leave Galilee for the Jordan River. He found John the Baptist and was baptized (Matthew 3:13-17). You know these accounts, we read each one over the past few weeks. Yet, these accounts are not mere facts. God includes each account in Scripture for a reason. God uses each account to highlight this truth: Christ Comes on a Mission.
That is clearly seen by the events at the Jordan River. There, God anointed Jesus of Nazareth. To ‘anoint’ means to ‘set someone aside’ for a specific mission (or purpose). You pour oil on their head and that individual felt the oil, the people see the oil. Everyone understands this one single person carries a specific responsibility. In the Old Testament, God could select a man (like Elijah) and anoint him as prophet; Elijah has a specific, God-approved mission as God’s messenger. God selects David and anoints him as king; David is no longer a shepherd, but has the purpose of leading God’s people. You saw that at Jesus’ baptism God anoint[s him] with the Holy Spirit and power[.] God sets Jesus aside for a specific mission.
What is that mission? To do good and heal all who were under the power of the devil[.] That is what Jesus is born to do. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression.
You know that. You Jesus went around healing and teaching. You know wicked men arrested him out of jealousy. You know Jesus is whipped and beaten, slandered and insulted, nailed and crucified. You know he suffers death at the hands of God for your benefit. To heal you from the devil’s oppression.
You also know something else. The devil, although mortally wounded, remains hard at work. He appears in the quiet of the night, when you sit in the La-Z-Boy alone, when you stare at the ceiling in bed, and he whispers: ‘Do you really think God loves someone like you?’ ‘Do you think God forgets your addiction? The hurt, the abuse you inflicted on others?’ ‘Do you think God is pleased with the care you provided for your spouse? Did you try your hardest? Did you give up?’‘What about your divorce? After all, doesn’t God say: “I hate divorce”?[Malachi 2:16] Then, doesn’t God hate you?’ The devil pokes the heart, ‘Do you feel saved?’ ‘Remember your past? How you chose friends over family? How you hoped the darkness could hide your secret? Does God forgive that? ‘Look at who you are! Do you feel ‘good?’Does your heart leap and are you brimming with joy? Do you think you will go to heaven?’
What torment Satan brings! You know Jesus beats him, but still he still afflicts you! Do you know why? That ancient serpent wants to lead you astray (Revelation 12:9). He tries to lead your heart away from Christ. So, he brings up your past. He asks what you will do to fix your crimes. He wants you to rely on you. That way, you think you saved yourself, you are the savior. If you are the savior, then you no longer see the real Savior. Yes, that ancient serpent, mortally wounded, wants to steer your heart away from Christ. Do you know that sly trick?
Christ does— and He Comes on a Mission to heal you from the devil’s oppression. Jesus stands here, in the Jordan River. John pours water over his head. The instant he does the Spirit of the Lord rest[s] on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2). God the Father trumpets: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17).
Christ is clearly identified as faultless, blameless. The devil cannot point at past regrets— because Jesus has none! He cannot stir up guilt, he cannot steer Jesus into despair— because he commits no crime! Jesus shoulders God’s Holy Commandments and God says: ‘I am pleased with you! You, my Son, are perfect!’ Which is precisely the purpose for Jesus’ birth.
Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. He marches to the cross and puts down that faultless, blameless life. The Father reaches down from heaven and accepts it. The Father uses that holiness like a key and unlocks us from hell. He holds that holy life and destroys the devil’s every sneaky lie. You (and I) have been set free from the devil’s grip.
This is the reason Christ is born. Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression and to make you acceptable before God.
Can you be sure that God accepts you? That God does forgive your addiction, your divorce, your hurt? That you are saved?
God uses the disciple Peter to answer that question: Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Did you hear that? Another Bible verse that makes clear that you did not accept God, God accepted you.) God accepts you. How do you know? Well, what did you hear moments ago? We died to sin… don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:2-3). Baptism has connected you to the results of Jesus’ work. The results? Jesus Christ died to wash away the consequences of sin. Baptism washes away the consequences of your sin. Just as Christ rose from the dead sin-less, you also rise out of the water sin-less. God cannot make it any clearer: Baptism connects you to Christ. Baptism makes you acceptable before God.
Still, the devil tries to lead you astray. He whispers questions about baptism so that your ego puffs up and you rely on ego more than the Bible. I know many opinions exist about baptism— but they remain just that: opinions, a made up thought. Some teach that you do not need to be baptized. Why then does Jesus say, ‘Go and baptize all nations?’ (Matthew 28:19). Others teach that baptism is when you decide to become a Christian. Why then does Scripture always associate forgiveness of sins with baptism? The apostle Paul says: ‘Be baptized and wash your sins away (Acts 22:16). The apostle Peter says: ‘Be baptized…for the forgiveness of your sins’ (Acts 2:38). The devil knows that baptism makes you God’s child. So, he tries to get you to place made up opinions over what God clearly says so that you trust yourself. So that you doubt that God saves you.
Friends, God drowns your doubts. This baptismal font stands front and center so that you always remember: God accepts you. You might have been baptized decades ago. Great! Do not pack away its significance with the Christmas decorations. Its impact resounds every single day. When the devil leads you into a guilt trip, point at your baptism. Point at that Bible verse telling what baptism does: [B]aptism now saves you also… [it gives] the pledge of a good conscience toward God (1 Peter 3:21). Point at the Bible verse testifying that you are God’s child: [A]ll of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ (Galatians 3:27). Drown the devil’s lies with God’s truth.
Keep pointing others to the lasting peace God gives in baptism. You cannot bring a little child for baptism, never, ever teach this child about the Savior, and then expect this child in heaven. Baptism is not a ‘good luck’ charm. The faith started must be fed and nurtured because faith can be lost. Keep pointing that little child to Christ. Point to the Christ killed by evil men, but raised by God (Acts 10:39). Point to the forgiveness of sins unleashed that first Easter (Romans 1:4). Point to the paradise God gives to those who believe (Mark 16:16).
Christ Comes on a Mission to make you acceptable before God. And he accomplished that mission. He completed his purpose. He met the goal. You now stand with the results of his victory. Morally pure. Spiritually stain-less. Pleasing and acceptable in God’s sight.
What sweet peace! God points you to that baby in Bethlehem. He points you to the purpose of his birth. He points you to the peace Jesus brings. Christ Comes on a Mission to heal you from the devil’s oppression. The guilt carried, the worry if a loved one is in heaven, the fear that you might not make heaven all melt away because Christ puts his innocence on you. Can you be sure? Christ Comes on a Mission to make you acceptable before God.
You realize that God never asks your thoughts about Jesus’ mission. Instead, God tells you Christ Comes on a Mission so that you can see what he has done for you. Live in peace. Your sins are forgiven. You are at peace with God. Because Christ Comes on a Mission! To heal you from the devil’s oppression. To make you acceptable before God.
Well, if the study is accurate, about 130-million Americans (40%) made a New Year’s resolution last Wednesday. That’s about one out of every three Americans. One out of every three people formed a firm commitment to change at least one area of life.
You realize, change reacts to the past. You may reflect on the year past, identify a particular behavior, recognize how harmful it might be, and set out to change it. You look back and see the fast-food adding weight. That is not good. So, you set out to replace junk-food with healthy food. You discover strained relationships and set out to be more patient and forgiving. You identify a lack of strength and so you schedule daily exercise. A resolution strives to end harmful behavior and start a beneficial lifestyle.
We could call this process: ‘Vision.’ ‘Vision’ lays out a plan to reach a goal. With a goal set, vision sees what lies ahead. Vision provides guidance.
Do you have a clear vision on what the future holds? Do you have a clear vision of the impact of your day-to-day life? Do you have a clear vision on your identity? In this particular year, you gain perfect vision. On the one hand, I can use the cheesy line: ‘The year is 2020! You have perfect eyesight for everything that lies ahead!’ With all joking aside, God Gives You 2020 Vision. With his Word he provides perfect sight for the year ahead. See God choose to adopt you and See God enlighten your future.
That is such a vital truth that God does not wait to reveal it. Immediately after the opening greeting (‘From Paul, to the Ephesians. Grace and peace to you.’) erupts this praise: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places[.] ‘Blessed be God,’ that is, ‘Praise God!’ Why? Because he showers never-ending blessings on you. Understand, God is not pointing at your Christmas presents or your children and grandchildren or your house or car, job or retirement. Things on earth may benefit you; they may touch your emotions, but they cannot touch your soul. (And if they cannot touch your soul, then how valuable are those earthly things?)
God zeroes in on spiritual blessings streaming down from heaven. Spiritual blessings, like, the benefit of spending eternity in paradise, completely content and satisfied, free from pain and heartache. Spiritual blessings, like, having peace in the face of death, joy in the midst of misery, strength in trouble. These tremendous blessings belong to you because of the supreme blessing found in verses 4 and 5. [H]e chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will[.]
God aligns our focus on this magnificent reality: God chose to adopt you. That means, at one time you (and I) did not belong in God’s family. You (and I) were outsiders, people who shared no ownership with God. For example, it would be weird if I gave you a big hug and called you ‘Mom’ or if I opened up your shed, fired up the snow blower, and said, ‘I got your driveway dad!’ or if I walked into your bedroom and said, ‘I’m going to play with some of your toys, sis.’ I am not part of your family. I do not share rights to your property. No intimate, emotional bond or physical bond exists between me and you. That is how we started life: Having no possession of God’s love. Our future was dark and dead.
So, God illuminates this tremendous truth: Before the creation of the world, before life began, God chose you to belong in his family. Understand that well: You did not chose God (read also John 15:16). Do you find any mention about you ‘choosing’ Christ or you ‘accepting’ Christ here? No! Holy Scripture makes it explicitly clear: [H]e chose us. God selected you out of the world’s orphanage. He gave you the family name: ‘Christian.’ He dressed you in new, clean clothes and shoes. He hands you a key to heaven and a cellphone with his number in it. He readies your heavenly room. God chose to adopt you.
That is the vision God holds before your eyes (and mine). This is what God wants you (and I) to see. He wants you to see your identity as a child of God. He wants you to see this because so much blurs that vision.
For many the new year focuses on self-improvement. (What can you do to better your life on earth?) That thinking can easily consume your attention. So many consider church as a self-help place. Some hope to hear a message that will instantly heal strained relationships. Others think that being here will provide good luck for the week ahead. Still others seeking moral improvement (that is, how to be better person). Do you realize the Bible never obsesses about those matters? The purpose of the Bible is not to reveal how to live happy and wealthy today. It never teaches ‘7-Steps for a Stronger Marriage’ or ‘5-Secrets to Greater Wealth’ or ‘Unlock a Better You Now.’ It never teaches: ‘How to Make America Great’ or ‘What Has Happened to Families?’ God gives the Bible in order to give you vision— and not just any vision, but a vision for heaven.
Still, there always remains a little part of us that exchanges the eternal for the worldly. A little part of us that considers the temporary more valuable than the eternal. A little part that makes life all about ‘me,’ and ‘my’ pleasures, and ‘my’ pursuits. Friends, real purpose is never found without God. Without God stands death, life outside his family forever.
That is why God immediately stresses where Christians have their standing. In fact, God repeats it four times in four verses! He chose us in Christ. He adopted you through Christ. He gives you grace through the Beloved Christ. God cannot stress life’s fullest vision enough. He points you (and me) to Christ!
That Christ-Child born Christmas Day does not come so that the poor have some money. He does not arrive so that the arguing religious leaders are silenced. He does not come so that families get along. He comes to make you (and me) (1) holy and (2) blameless. He holds the cross before your eyes so that you clearly see that point. Eternity is so important that God wraps himself in human flesh, takes off our filthy life and washes it with his innocent life. His innocent blood scrubs away worldly ambition. His single-minded focus on heaven covers over every instance our hearts fall in love with this world. He removes every spiritual stain so that God sees you ‘holy,’ that is, without fault. God sees you ‘blameless.’ As the Judge of the universe, God stares at you, but finds no charges. He slams the holy gavel and cries out: ‘Innocent!’ This is how you stand before God today.
How do you know this applies to you? Well, a few minutes ago you heard: [Y]ou also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). God stamped you with a seal. In baptism, he stamps you with his name— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). Baptism is a pledge, the contract God signed to adopt you. You now belong to him.
God Gives You 2020 Vision. He takes Jesus’ birth and the cross, pieces them together so that you gain a clear vision of identity. Because of Jesus God chooses to adopt you. That is your identity today. Since this is who you are, it shapes where you go from here. The future is no secret. God Gives You 2020 Vision as God enlightens your future.
Our closing verses say: For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him[.] God reveals your adoption, but repeats it. He repeats it so that you might (1) remember it and (2) better understand it. For example, in grade-school you might have memorized every state with its capital. You remembered it so well, but now you have forgotten. What you once knew, you forgot.
God does not want you to lose sight that you are his adopted child. So, he sends the Holy Spirit to fill you with wisdom and revelation. Real wisdom acknowledges the poisonous devastation sin wreaks on the world and how Christ is the antidote. God reveals this truth in the Bible.
You will sharpen your vision for a heavenly future by remaining in the Word of God. That might mean carving out time for a devotion each day or spending a few moments with God in prayer. You get to center your thoughts, your heart, your mind on what God teaches is right and true. That means you get to evaluate your time and consider if you might attend Bible Class. In class, you get to examine life’s questions through the scope of the Word. You will lose nothing by attending; you will only grow more. That means, as God’s child, you keep worship your priority. As someone who loves God, why would you want to make excuses to stay out of worship? Instead, as God’s adopted child, you want to make reasons to be with your heavenly Father. As you remain in the Word, your knowledge of God grows and your trust in him strengthens. You have 2020 vision that sees heaven as your eternal goal and you, a child of God, who walks towards that goal. God, through his Word, enlightens your future. [I pray that] having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints[.] Unending life with Jesus lies ahead— and you can see it clearly.
Yes, this year happens to be 2020. So I can use the cheesy line: ‘The year is 2020! You have perfect eyesight for everything that lies ahead!’ In all seriousness, God Gives You 2020 Vision. He provides perfect sight for the year ahead. (1) See God choose to adopt you. In sheer love, he brought you into his family. Jesus lived a perfect life and the Holy Spirit applies it to you. So, you stand as God’s adopted child. Since this is how you now appear, (2) See God enlighten your future. God uses his Word to sharpen sights on your eternal goal. He points you to heaven and leads you there as you remain in his Word—hearing it and shaping life around it.
God Gives You 2020 Vision. See God choose to adopt you and See God enlighten your future.